‘House of brands’ group becomes largest legal B Corp

Walker-Smith: Group based on shared values

A legal and professional services group with a ‘house of brands’ strategy has become the largest UK legal business to be certified as a B Corporation, the movement which aims to balance profit with purpose.

Sarah Walker-Smith, chief executive of Ampa which employs over 1,300 people, said the group’s structure made it harder to become a B Corp, but its culture made it easier.

Ms Walker-Smith, who is also chief executive of law firm Shakespeare Martineau, told Legal Futures she had known about B Corps for 10 years and had wanted to join them since then.

Ampa is only the seventh legal business in the UK to become a B Corp, with six remaining in the scheme after London firm Mishcon de Reya dropped out early last year.

The most recent law firm to join was South-West practice Stephens Scown, the first employee-owned law firm in the country, which announced the move earlier this month. The biggest law firm before Ampa was North-West firm Brabners, which has over 400 staff.

Ms Walker-Smith said Ampa agreed on its strategy to become a B Corp at the end of 2019, but the pandemic “slowed us down a bit”.

Helen Hay, group head of culture and sustainability at Ampa, who led it through the rigorous certification process, said the group had to wait in a queue for nine months, having submitted its initial B Corp assessment in August 2021, because there were so many other businesses wanting to be certified.

Ms Hay said Ampa’s merger with Sussex law firm Mayo Wynne Baxter early last year added another layer of complexity to the process.

However, Ms Walker-Smith said the group’s ‘house of brands’ strategy was based on shared values, “golden threads” such as being “a fantastic employer”, which potential members of the group needed to “buy into” before they could join Ampa.

“Our structure made it harder to become a B Corp but our culture made it easier.”

Ms Walker-Smith said Ampa was one of only 29 UK B Corps with more than 1,000 staff.

“Size is irrelevant. We have 150 partners united around a common culture. We only merge with businesses which share our golden threads.”

Ms Walker-Smith said the group’s membership agreement already set out its purpose and they “only had to tweak it” to become a B Corp.

Ms Hay added that one of the specific environmental objectives Ampa had set itself was achieving net zero carbon by 2030, without resorting to offsetting.

On the future expansion of Ampa, Ms Walker-Smith said: “We’re having lots of conversations at any one time. Some of the smaller ones are under our existing brands and the results will be announced soon.

“We’re continuing to talk to larger organisations about joining the group, but we’re in no hurry. All our brands are growing organically.”

Ben Buckton, group COO of Ampa, added that “not enough” law firms were B Corps. “We want others to come on the journey with us. We’re keen to talk to other law firms.”

Ampa includes the brands Shakespeare Martineau, Lime Solicitors, Mayo Wynne Baxter, debt and loss recovery business Corclaim, town planning consultancy Marrons and cyber security company CSS Assure.

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